REPORT CARD: Finals grades for 8-8 campaign posted



FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Dan Quinn was also crunching the numbers on the recently completed 8-8 season.

He cited some good and bad numbers during his season-ending news conference on Monday.

Here’s what the Falcons’ final report card for the 8-8 season looks like:

122815 ATLANTA: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan takes a hard hit from Panthers safety Kurt Coleman as he runs for a first down on a quarterback keeper during the first half in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Panthers 20-13 to end their perfect season. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

122815 ATLANTA: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan takes a hard hit from Panthers safety Kurt Coleman as he runs for a first down on a quarterback keeper during the first half in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Panthers 20-13 to end their perfect season. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Game ball: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones turned in fabulous season with 136 catches for 1,871 yards and eight touchdowns.

Quarterbacks, D. Matt Ryan’s penchant for throwing ill-advised interception this season in the new offensive system undermined a solid statistical campaign. He completed 407 of 614 passes (66.3 percent) for 4,591 yards, 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. But those were mostly empty yards to nowhere. They didn’t end up with touchdowns. His career-high of 17 interceptions was set in 2013. He finished with a passer rating of 89, the third lowest of his eight seasons in the league. Backup Sean Renfree played sparingly.

Running backs, C-plus. The grade would be higher if the top two running backs didn’t have key fumbles this season. Devonta Freeman came on to have a Pro Bowl season as he rushed for 1,061 yards on 264 carries and scored 11 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 73 passes for 578 yards and had three receiving touchdowns. Tevin Coleman, who opened the season as the starting running back, also showed some promise but struggled with ball security. His season ended with a fall in the shower that led to a concussion. Terron Ward was a solid backup in the outside zone blocking system. Fullback Patrick DiMarco had a career year and was named alternate for the Pro Bowl mostly for his lead blocking.

Wide receivers/tight ends, C. On a 27-yard catch in the fourth quarter, Jones passed Jerry Rice for second all-time on the single season receiving yardage list (1,848, 1995). Jones is now one of three players all-time to record 1,800-plus receiving yards in a single season and he is one of five Falcons players to record 1,800-plus yards from scrimmage in a single season (1,871). He and Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown each finished the season with 136 receptions, which tied them for second on the NFL’s single season reception list. (Marvin Harrison, 143, 2002). Jones is one of three players in NFL history to have more than 130-plus catches in a season. The Falcons may have to find a No. 2 receiver this offseason. Roddy White turned 34 during the season and his production dipped dramatically in the new offense. He went from 80 catches to 43 catches for 506 yards and one touchdown. He has two years left on his contract. Rookie Justin Hardy showed some play-making ability late in the season. Tight end Jacob Tamme was respectable with 59 catches for 657 yards and a touchdown.

122815 ATLANTA: Falcons running back Devonta Freeman gets past Panthers Jared Allen for a touchdown to tie the game 7-7 during the second quarter in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

122815 ATLANTA: Falcons running back Devonta Freeman gets past Panthers Jared Allen for a touchdown to tie the game 7-7 during the second quarter in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Offensive line, C. The unit was over-matched at times, but battled throughout the season. The snaps from center that led to turnovers were costly. The unit did pave the way for Freeman’s 1,000 yard campaign. They gave up 32 sacks. Left tackle Jake Matthews and right tackle Ryan Schraeder both made major strides. Right guard Chris Chester may have been the best run blocker. Center Mike Person was strong in the run game, but his botched snaps were troublesome. He was replaced in the regular season finale by Gino Gradkowski. Left guard Andy Levitre was a scrapper, but had too many penalties. He also struggled at times in pass protection. He led the team with 11 penalties.

Defensive line, C. Rookie defensive end Vic Beasley came up short of his stated goal of being a “double-digit” sack guy as a rookie. He played the season with a torn labrum and that may have been a factor. The Falcons finished with 19 sacks, which was last in the league. Denver led the league with 52 sacks. Beasley had a key sack-strip to end the victory of Carolina in Game 15, which was the highlight of the season for the defense and the team. Adrian Clayborn and O’Brien Schofield, who were signed to help the pass rush. They were solid players on a decent defense. Veteran Jonathan Babineaux was still the unit’s best player as they played a heavy run-pass rotation, but could never come up with a combination to rush the passers. The front – led by Tyson Jackson, Rashede Hagemen and Paul Soliai – was much improved against the run. The Falcons gave up 105 yards rushing per game, which ranked 14th in the league.

Linebackers, C: Paul Worrilow led the team in tackles with 96. Free agent signees Justin Durant and Brooks Reed were disappointing. Durant, who came with an injury history, was injured for parts of the season. Late in the season, he struggled in coverage and with his tackling, which may have stemmed for his elbow injury. Reed had a groin injury that required surgery and kept him off the field early in the season. He played strong against the run at times, but didn’t make many plays. Backup linebackers Philip Wheeler and Nate Stupar provided some depth. The Falcons need to find out if Tyler Starr can play at strongside linebacker and help in coverage.

Defensive backs, C. The Falcons finished in the bottom half of the league in pass defense. They gave up 242.6 yards per game, which ranked 18th in the league. Part of the reason is the anemic pass rush, coupled with some coverage lapses. Cornerback Desmond Trufant had a strong season, but as long as the Falcons are not winning his work will go unnoticed league-wide. Entering the final game, Trufant was targeted 54 times on a 911 snaps. The 54 targets were an NFL low among cornerbacks who have played at least 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, according to profootballfocus.com. Trufant had given up 31

Robert Alford scores the winning TD. (AP Photo)

Robert Alford scores the winning TD. (AP Photo)

receptions, which was the third lowest total among cornerbacks who have played at least 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps. Alford was second on the team with nine penalties, including four pass interference and two holding calls. Rookie Jalen Collins struggled in limited action. Veteran Phillips Adams was solid as he played the nickel back for most of the season.

Special teams, C. Field goal kicker Shayne Graham filled in admirably for kicker Matt Bryant, who’s season was cut short by a quadriceps injury. Graham’s history of being erratic showed up with a wild kick against Carolina and he had one blocked in the regular-season finale against the Saints. He’s a couple years younger than Bryant and could return. Returner Devin Hester, spent part of the season on the short-term injured reserve, didn’t strike the fear in coverage units upon his return. Punter Matt Bosher had a solid season. He averaged 40.4 yards net on 48 punts. He placed 24 punts inside the 20-yard line and had one punt blocked by the Saints in the first meeting.

Coaching, C. The first-year staff got off to a great start as they opened the season 5-0. But once teams had film of the new offense, they were able to shut it down. The Falcons’ offensive braintrust was slow to react and never did get the offense humming at the 32.4 points a game clip they opened the season with over five games. The defense, which was one of the worst units in the league in 2014, made some major strides in 2015. The Falcons gave up 347.6 yards per game, which ranked 17th in the league. The Falcons gave up 21.6 points per game , which ranked 14th in the league. To lift the defense from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack was a good start in Quinn’s first year. But the regression on offense, sets the grade back. The offense’s regression over the season led to the 8-8 mark and the team missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

In the final game of the NFL season, the New Orleans Saints kicked a field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 20-17. The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter reports.


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